- One of the men given a death sentence for the 2002 Akshardham terror act and acquitted by the Supreme Court tells his story
In his book The RSS Story, the late BJP leader KR Malkani, quotes the RSS ideologue Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkarlamenting the tendency of ruling parties to grab as many extraordinary powers as possible. “This is not a healthy situation in a democratic system… After all we are not the only country to have enemies. And we are not the only country threatened with war. The whole world is living in the shadow of war. But ours is the only democratic country to have emergency laws even when there is no fighting,” said Golwalkar.
Ironically though, his disciples in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are drafting as many stringent security laws as they can. But more than the authors of paranoid security laws, it is the way the security agencies make use of these laws to frame innocent citizens and implicate them in acts of terror, that is truly disturbing.
Mufti Abdul Qayyum Mansuri tells his own frightening story of the security agencies manipulating such laws in his book, 11 Years Behind the Bars. Mufti was arrested in connection with the Akshardam terror attack on September 24, 2002 in which 32 people died. The Supreme Court had acquitted all the six accused, three of whom were sentenced to death, on May 16, 2014, after the trial court found them guilty. The Gujarat High Court upheld the lower court’s verdict. Seeing through the plot in the carefully crafted story of the Gujarat Crime Branch, the apex court saved Mufti from the hangman’s noose. The two-judge bench of the court remarked that “Fiction must make sense,”, a tell-tale comment on the sinister and fake narrative put together by the investigators.
It is true that “national security concerns” have attained the status of a holy cow. Nobody dares to question a narrative which hinges upon “national security”. The Mufti case, too, bears stark testimony to this dreadful phenomenon. No politician – barring a few honourable exceptions — raised the issue or even questioned Gujarat Crime Branch how it cracked the case, within days, of the case being transferred to it from the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). The ATS, which was originally entrusted the investigations, was groping in the dark for a year. The gullible media lapped up the stories. For them, the story could be based only on the official version.
Democracy requires a culture of accountability. Unfortunately, we, being a young democracy, have not been able to internalise the fundamental values of a democratic culture. The lack of accountability has led to the emergence of parallel power centres within the government.
Perhaps not many remember today how Akshardham Mandir in Ahmedabad was attacked by two terrorists, killing 32 people and injuring several others, in September 2002. It was reported that both the terrorists were killed by commandos on the spot itself. A year later in August 2003, five persons including Mufti who was supervising a relief camp for the 2002 riot-victims, were arrested from Shahpur and Dariapur areas of Ahmedabad. The sixth accused was nabbed from Uttar Pradesh a few days later. The Jammu and Kashmir Police had at that time punched holes in the Gujarat police story. But the lower courts sentenced Mufti and one more person to death for his ‘heinous role in the conspiracy’. It was upheld by the Gujarat high court. The remaining four accused were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life.
The apex court rejected the judgments of the trial court as well as the Gujarat High Court. Justices AK Patnaik and V Gopala Gowda believed that the prosecution has failed to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. And so they deserved to be exonerated of all the charges. Holding their confessional statements as invalid in law, the bench said that the prosecution could not establish their participation in any conspiracy.
The book records how the Gujarat Police gave Mufti the “choice” of being implicated in any one of the three cases relating to Godhra train burning, Haren Pandya murder or Akshardham terror. The world of Mufti Abdul Qayyum has changed completely in the 11 years that he spent in jail. His father is dead, and his family no longer lives in their old home. Mufti said the main charge against him was that the two letters, recovered from the two fidayeen killed in the terror attack, were written by him. He was framed, alleges Mufti.
“For three days and nights, they made me copy a letter that they had given me. They (the police) would bring an expert each day to check whether I had copied it well. They would ask me to copy the twists and turns of the Urdu letters so that they looked exactly the same, as in the letter. They had beaten me to pulp. Even took me out to stage an encounter. I was very afraid, and did what they told me to do,” he writes. “Then they claimed in court that I had written the letters.” But the prosecution failed to substantiate how the letters could remain unsoiled and unstained when the bodies of the fidayeen — ripped with bullets – were soiled in mud and blood.
Mufti said that in jail he met the police officers who had framed him, and asked them why they had done so. “I met GL Singhal. Though they (police officers) were kept separately, we sometimes bumped into each other. I told him (Singhal): ‘Please tell me – why did you do this to me…’ He had no answer.”
The story does not end with the acquittal of Mufti but in the concluding remarks of the Supreme Court: “One needs to express anguish at the incompetence with which the investigating agencies conducted the investigation of the case of such a grievous nature, involving the integrity and security of the nation. Instead of booking the real culprits responsible for taking so many previous lives, the police caught innocent people, and framed grievous charges against them which resulted in their convictions and subsequent sentencing. There is a need to reinvestigate the dreaded terror attack and unveil real culprits.”
The book, originally in Urdu and Gujarati and translated badly into English, is an endeavour to caution people about the dangers of endorsing the official machinery, especially law-enforcement agencies even when they are subverting justice. The book also offers lessons for media, which unquestioningly accepts every story offered and spiced up by security agencies. The book is a call to the judiciary to look beyond the police versions. Justice is an important component for making the country stable and peaceful, and in turn investment-friendly.
I believe, the plot, the melodrama, and the tricks involved in the Akshardham case have not ended. The tactics used by the Gujarat Police, I do believe, are still at work against someone vulnerable by the same or another group of investigating officers.
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